Num­ber of el­derly folk on the rise in Ja­pan

Those aged 65 and above make up 27.7% of pop­u­la­tion – a new high – and are set to hit 35.3% by 2040

The Straits Times - - ASIA - Wal­ter Sim Ja­pan Correspondent In Tokyo

At a week­end pop-up restau­rant in Tokyo’s up­mar­ket Rop­pongi dis­trict, those who ask for soup might get a salad, while those who or­der a ham­burger could be served pasta.

There should, how­ever, be no com­plaints at what is quirk­ily called the Restau­rant Of Or­der Mis­takes. Its team of wait staff com­prises 17 de­men­tia pa­tients, and ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee mem­ber Shiro Oguni, a tele­vi­sion di­rec­tor, said he hopes to foster a spirit of tol­er­ance, em­pa­thy and ac­cep­tance to­wards de­men­tia pa­tients.

Es­ti­mates show that al­most one in five se­nior cit­i­zens in Ja­pan suf­fers from de­men­tia, with numbers set to rise as the na­tion grap­ples with a fast-age­ing pop­u­la­tion.

This is the three-day pop-up restau­rant’s sec­ond run, fol­low­ing a sim­i­lar event in June. Lim­ited tick­ets have been set aside for walk-in cus­tomers, with the bulk re­served for donors in an on­line fund-raiser that col­lected al­most 13 mil­lion yen (S$158,000) – nearly 5 mil­lion yen more than the ini­tial tar­get.

The event ends today as Ja­pan marks Re­spect For The Aged Day with a pub­lic hol­i­day.

The Sta­tis­tics Bureau, in data re- leased yes­ter­day in line with Re­spect For The Aged Day, said the pro­por­tion of the el­derly to the to­tal pop­u­la­tion stands at 27.7 per cent.

Ja­pan de­fines its el­derly as those aged 65 and above.

This fig­ure, a new high, is pro­jected to reach 35.3 per cent by 2040. Those who are 90 years old and above also crossed the two mil­lion mark for the first time.

Last Fri­day, the Health, Labour and Wel­fare Min­istry said the num­ber aged 100 years and above has risen to a record 67,824 peo­ple, of whom nearly nine in 10 are women.

Ja­pan’s old­est woman, Ms Nabi Ta­jima, 117, was born in Au­gust 1900 in Kagoshima in the south-west. Last Saturday, she took over the ti­tle of the world’s old­est woman af­ter the death of Ja­maican Vi­o­let Mosse-Brown, who was born in March 1900.

Its old­est man, Mr Masazo Non­aka, 112, hails from north­ern Hokkaido and was born in July 1905.

The data showed that nearly 12 per cent of Ja­pan’s work­force are se­niors who choose to con­tinue work­ing. Most Ja­panese firms re­quire full-timers to re­tire at 60, but they can ex­tend for five years on a con­trac­tual ba­sis with re­duced terms.

As of last Fri­day, there were some 7.7 mil­lion se­niors in the work­place. Three in four of them are so­called “ir­reg­u­lar work­ers” who do part-time or con­trac­tual work.

These numbers, too, are set to rise as the el­derly look for ways to spend their time and to sup­ple­ment their house­hold sav­ings.

Two geri­atric groups are now lob­by­ing Tokyo to add 10 years to its def­i­ni­tion of el­derly. Ja­pan’s life ex­pectancy last year was 87.1 years for women and 81 years for men.

Their ra­tio­nale, as Dr Ya­suyoshi Ouchi, 68, told a re­cent brief­ing, is for Tokyo to ac­knowl­edge the “re­ju­ve­na­tion” of Ja­pan’s se­niors in their phys­i­cal and in­tel­lec­tual health amid ad­vanc­ing med­i­cal care, nu­tri­tion and san­i­ta­tion stan­dards.

But crit­ics of the plan are con- cerned that any rise in the el­derly age def­i­ni­tion would lead to a de­lay in pen­sion pay­outs and af­fect those on so­cial as­sis­tance.

So­ci­ol­o­gist Emi Kataoka of Tokyo’s Ko­mazawa Univer­sity told The Straits Times: “An old man who is able to work will have to con­tinue to pay taxes, and if the plan is re­alised, it means a shift to­wards a sys­tem in an ul­tra-age­ing so­ci­ety where so­cial se­cu­rity sup­port is propped up by other el­derly (cit­i­zens).”

So­cial safety nets must be en­hanced be­fore such a pro­posal can be con­sid­ered, she said, adding: “If pen­sion an­nu­ities are not paid out un­til 75, there is the risk that those aged from 65 to 74 who are ill or are un­able to work will be left in limbo.”


Or­gan­is­ers and wait staff at the first run of the Restau­rant Of Or­der Mis­takes in Tokyo in June. The idea be­hind the con­cept of the restau­rant is to foster a spirit of tol­er­ance, em­pa­thy and ac­cep­tance to­wards de­men­tia pa­tients.

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